Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of South Asian Affairs (Mathews)


Subject: Indian Materials of Atomic Energy Significance

Participants: Representative Durham of North Carolina1
Mr. Robert W. Smart, Staff Assistant, House Armed Services Committee
Mr. E. G. Mathews, Director, Office of South Asian Affairs
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Mr. Mathews called on Representative Durham at the suggestion of Mr. McFall2 and after consultation with Mr. Arneson.3

Mr. Mathews explained that the Department was greatly concerned at attempts being made on the Hill to tie the supply of food grain to India to the removal by India of its embargo of the export of certain raw materials of atomic energy significance. The materials involved were beryl and monazite sands.

As regards beryl, Mr. Mathews said that we had a secret agreement with India under which we would receive supplies of this critical material. The first shipment would be leaving India in the near future. The Department was prepared to indicate cautiously that we hoped to receive beryl from India but was unable to make public the existence of the agreement. Both we and the Indians felt that this would be undesirable. Mr. Durham indicated that he was aware of the existence of the agreement. He felt that it would be very, helpful in connection with the food grain matter if the agreement could be made public. Mr. Mathews stated that this unfortunately was not possible and suggested that it would be helpful if Mr. Durham and his colleagues on the Joint Atomic Commission could indicate to other members of the Congress that the beryl situation vis-à-vis India need not cause concern.

With respect to monazite sands, Mr. Mathews said that our efforts over the past several years to induce the Government of India to relax its embargo had been unavailing. The Indian embargo resulted from India’s desire to have a processing plant established in India as a matter of commercial advantage and from India’s long range hope to develop an atomic energy program based on thorium. India had sought unsuccessfully to interest American and British firms in establishing a processing plant in India. Having had no satisfactory response to these approaches, the Indians have turned to the French and have made an agreement with a French firm which had undertaken to erect a processing plant. The agreement provided that all thorium was to remain in India but that the French firm would have the foreign distribution rights to rare earths produced.

Mr. Mathews pointed out that our need for the thorium content of monazite was hardly urgent since the Lindsey Light and Chemical Company of Chicago had hundreds of tons of unrefined thorium and waste material at its plant. As regards the rare earths components of monazite sands the situation was less satisfactory although significant deposits of ores containing these rare earths had recently been found in the United States.

Mr. Mathews said that the Lindsey Light and Chemical Company, which had a legitimate commercial interest in doing everything it [Page 2137] could to bring about the import of Indian monazite sands into the United States, was confusing the issue on the Hill by trying to make it appear that an urgent and vital national interest was involved. It was clear from the facts that this was not the case and if the company had been prepared to establish a processing plant in India when it was approached several years ago, we would currently have access to the rare earths in Indian monazite.

Representative Durham indicated that he was familiar with the facts that Mr. Mathews had outlined and that his interpretation of the situation was the same. He favored sending food grain to India and considered it unfortunate that the monazite issue had become involved. Mr. Mathews commented that the Department would be very grateful for anything Mr. Durham could do to persuade his colleagues in the House to see the monazite problem in the proper perspective.

  1. Representative Carl T. Durham, Vice Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy.
  2. Jack K. McFall, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations.
  3. R. Gordon Arneson, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State.